Written Statement of Judith L. Lichtman, Senior Advisor, National Partnership for Women & Families
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Public Meeting on Discrimination Against Pregnant Women and Caregivers
WASHINGTON, D.C. — February 15, 2012 — I am pleased that the Commission has convened this meeting, and I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this critically important issue. This complex, persistent problem of discrimination against pregnant women and caregivers deserves a coordinated, comprehensive response that strengthens the enforcement of existing laws. We urge the administration to create a multi-agency task force to address critical gaps in research, outreach, education, policy development and enforcement. The White House should lead this effort in close coordination with the EEOC, due to the Commission's central role in enforcing the critical protections of Title VII. The task force should also include representatives from the Department of Labor, the Department of Justice, and the Office of Personnel Management.
We urge the EEOC to provide thorough guidance and best practices to avoid unlawful discrimination against pregnant workers and caregivers, in line with legal protections provided by Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Investigators should be trained to identify this kind of discrimination. And the EEOC should utilize its authority to file Commissioner's charges. The Commission should also develop systemic, impact litigation to protect the most vulnerable workers, particularly those in low wage jobs. EEOC should develop Title VII disparate treatment and disparate impact cases to enforce recent caregiver guidance. At the appellate level, the Commission should share its subject-matter expertise with the courts by participating in cases as amicus curiae.
We do need to create more jobs but we must ensure that the jobs we create pay fair wages and provide basic family friendly supports like paid sick days and paid family and medical leave. Promoting fairness is critically important at this time. We learned today that charges of workplace discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have hit a record high. In FY 2011, the EEOC received a record 99,947 charges of employment discrimination — a figure that is shockingly high when you consider that just a small minority of those who experience discrimination file complaints with the EEOC. Sex discrimination charges made up more than one in four of those charges.
The Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, OFCCP, should include specific regulations and guidance on these issues in its sex discrimination regulations and the Federal Contract Compliance Manual. OFCCP should train investigators to identify discrimination against pregnant workers and caregivers as well as violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
The Department of Labor's Wage & Hour Division receives thousands of FMLA complaints each year, and the number has grown significantly in recent years. Wage & Hour should dedicate resources to FMLA enforcement, including systemic, impact litigation. The updated FMLA surveys should be implemented, and the data gathered from workers and employers should be analyzed carefully to assess outreach, education, policy and enforcement needs. We applaud the recent efforts of Secretary Solis and the first lady to raise awareness about the FMLA's military leave provisions. However, regulations approved in 2008 made it more difficult for employees to take leave, and these changes should be rescinded. Wage & Hour should also enforce the right to breaks for nursing mothers. Many hourly workers remain unaware of this new right, and Wage & Hour should engage in outreach, education and enforcement efforts to ensure proper implementation of this provision.
The Department of Justice enforces state and local government employers' obligations under Title VII, and it litigates Executive Order 11246 cases in the federal courts. DOJ should prioritize enforcement of pregnancy and caregiver discrimination cases.
The Office of Personnel Management should ensure that the federal government is a model employer. OPM should implement family friendly protections, for example, by providing paid parental leave to federal workers. Indeed, increased access to paid sick days and paid family and medical leave in both the public and private sectors would provide workers with the ability to care for themselves and family members.
Working women and caregivers depend on the guarantee of equal opportunity in the workplace. No worker should have to risk adverse treatment, lost income, or loss of a job due to pregnancy, childbirth or family caregiving responsibilities. We urge the administration to take decisive, coordinated action to put an end to the pernicious discrimination that threatens the economic security of our nation's families.
A copy of Judith Lichtman's full written and submitted testimony can be found here.
The National Partnership for Women & Families is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, access to quality health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family.